i downloaded balenaEtcher to a flash drive after downloading tails to same flash drive. was prompted to flash the balenaEtcher file, but cannot figure it out. i am new to this kind of thing, and not even sure what flashing something means
welcome to the forums.
You need to have etcher on your computer (installed or portable version).
You need to have that tails image also on your computer.
Then you should open etcher, select the tails image as source image, choose your pendrive as target and click flash.
What i described above will completely overwrite the contents of the pendrive with the tails image.
So if you have the etcher executable or the tails image already on the pendrive trying to start it from there it wont work.